If you’re part of team Ryderwear, you have more than likely heard of a deadlift at the very least. And if you’re a serious lifter, deadlifts should be a core part of your programs.
They are one of the fundamental movements that any gym goer should be doing. But like anything, performing a deadlift without the correct form can lead to serious injury. Plus, if you use the correct form, you’ll hopefully be able to add a few extra kilos on the bar!
While you might have been doing these for a long time, it’s always good to get a refresher of what to focus on when performing this bad boy of a lift.
And if you’re new to lifting (welcome to the club), these key points are super important to remember for instilling a good foundation from the beginning.
We asked exercise scientist and coach Bradley Drake how he helps people get their deadlift game on point.
He wanted to start with a few pointers to keep in mind before we begin explaining:
- Start at a low load and master your form before adding weight.
- Like with all other lifts, performing the deadlift is a skill. With all skills, it needs to be practiced.
- You may benefit from regressing the exercise early on to accommodate your learning capacity and current motor coordination. Trap bar deadlift, rack pulls and Romainian deadlifts (RDL’s) are good options.
- Consider having a coach to help you. Once you form bad habits, it becomes very difficult to correct.
- Make sure you complete a solid warmup before going heavy with your deadlifts like the RAMP protocol.
For a conventional deadlift, your feet should be shoulder width apart, toes pointing forward, maybe slightly outwards depending on what you find comfortable. The bar should be directly over the middle of your foot with the knees slightly over the bar and inline with your feet (not caving inwards).
Your hips should be higher than the knees and your back should be straight with shoulder blades retracted back (imagine that you are squeezing a pencil in between your shoulder blades and don’t let it go!). And super important, your chin should be tucked, and inline with the rest of your body.
The arms should come down outside both legs and should be kept straight. Your grip width should be slightly wider than shoulder width, with an overhand grip (both palms facing back). From this position you should be almost set! Get ready to do the best deadlift of your life.
Bracing and Breathing
Bracing correctly and breathing are vitally important components of all lifts and if these techniques are performed correctly, it should lead to a stronger and more compact lift (more gains, essentially). It’s important to brace the whole body, grip the bar, roll your shoulders back, engage your core, and have tension on the bar.
Once you’re set, take a deep breath using your diaphragm and hold it until you get close to the top of the lift. The reasoning for this comes down to basic physics. If we take a large breath in, we are adding volume to our abdomen. This added volume creates higher pressure which leads to greater stability throughout our core.
IMPORTANT: You can still breathe out when performing a lift but it has to be a small pressured, forced exhalation, not passive. This is to make sure we don’t lose tension through the body.
As with all lifts, deadlifts can be broken down into a concentric phase (lifting the bar - muscles shortening) and an eccentric phase (lowering the bar - muscles lengthening).
The beginning of the concentric phase occurs from the floor (for conventional deadlifts) and is the first movement once you're set. From the braced position, you need to pull the bar up towards your hips by fully extending your knees and hips. The bar path should be kept close to your legs without it deviating from the midline of your feet.
The arms should be kept straight and relaxed throughout the lift. The idea is to push hard into the floor with your feet spread out like a tripod. You should feel your hamstrings, glutes and quads contracting, along with some of your back muscles. Because this is a glute exercise, it’s important to lock the lift out up the top by extending the hips to really focus on that glute activation.
A common mistake people make when they get to the top of the lift, they over extend their lower back thinking they’re getting better glute activation, rather than pushing and extending through the hips. This places greater tension through the lower back and may actually decrease glute activation. Don’t be that person, push the hips forward without overextending the lower back.
This occurs when lowering the bar down back to the floor.
Depending on your goals, you may minimise the eccentric phase by half dropping the bar, or controlling the eccentric phase. From the top, hinge at the hips pushing them back while keeping the bar as close to your thighs as possible.. Once the bar reaches just past your knees, begin to bend at the knees while keeping your body angle consistent until the bar hits the ground.
This is the movement that people generally struggle with, and where RDLs and rack pulls can come in handy to slowly progress. Your lats should be tight as you keep the bar close to your legs at all times.
To get you in the best state of mind possible, having a functional outfit that is free of restriction is super important. You don’t want to focus on anything other than getting that deadlift right, so make sure you are doing everything you can to set you up for success.
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